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#9 Purdue takes on #8 Cincinnati in the 2015 NCAA Tournament

Purdue and Cincinnati will face off on Thursday in Louisville Kentucky for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The two teams come in relatively evenly matched, and the winner gets a date with the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday.

Purdue's Jon Octeus gets ready for his opening round game vs. Cincinnati
Purdue's Jon Octeus gets ready for his opening round game vs. Cincinnati
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Purdue Boilermakers were so close to beating the top-seeded Wisconsin Badgers in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, that is until Wisconsin outscored them by 25 points in the second half and won in convincing manner 71-51. Regardless, Purdue has some momentum going into the NCAA Tournament after winning 6 of its last 9 games. The Boilermakers are led by seven-foot center AJ Hammons in points and rebounds with 11.8 and 6.5 respectively, but also takes advantage of seven-footer Isaac Haas. Purdue's game relies on rebounding, and it is imperative that the Boilermakers crash the boards in order to advance to the round of 32.

Purdue's advantage lies in its offensive game where it scores 70 points per game compared to Cincinnati's 62, but the catch is that Cincinnati's lock-down defense ranks 6th in the nation at 55.3 points allowed per game. It is undeniable that Purdue's offensive efficiency will be tested against the Bearcats who can easily shut down opponents and take away easy buckets. As Purdue certainly has the ability to knock down jump shots, it would certainly rather feed the post and get higher percentage shots through centers Hammons and Haas. This means that Purdue must take care of junior center Octavius Ellis. He, much like Hammons, leads his team in both points and rebounds at 10.0 and 7.3 respectively. As the game could come down to a battle of the big men, it is also imperative to look at the guard play of both teams.

Throughout the season, Purdue has gotten considerable contributions from Raphael Davis, Jon Octeus, and Kendall Stephens. Octeus is the team's best facilitator with 2.7 assists per game, Davis is the second leading scorer for the Boilermakers with 10.9 points per game, and Stephens can knock down the three pointer as he shoots 39.6% from behind the arc. It is undeniable that Purdue's guards have the ability to create offense all by themselves, but they will certainly be tested by Cincinnati's stingy defense.

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain leads the Bearcats' back court in both points and steals per game with 9.5 and 1.2 respectively. He is also a great facilitator, as he averages a team-high 3.5 assists per game this year. Cincinnati gets good contribution out of its junior guard Farad Cobb with 8.5 points per game. Cincinnati is tough, especially when they don't have the ball in their hands. The Bearcats force 7 steals per game compared to Purdue's 5, so if the Boilermakers don't take good care of the ball, Cincinnati will prosper off of points in transition.

It is undeniable that Purdue has a huge advantage in the paint in this one. Despite the impressive play of Octavius Ellis, Purdue's AJ Hammons has been a force to be reckoned with all season long. If he is able to establish himself in the paint and demand the ball from his teammates, then the Boilermakers will have a direct path to some easier buckets. Purdue cannot settle if they want to win this one. Cincinnati will try to make them settle for jump shots with its tough perimeter and on-ball defense. Purdue must drive the ball and feed the paint in order to avoid bad shot selection.

The eight verses nine games are always intriguing and often times come down to a coin-flip. This game could go either way, but Purdue's toughness, especially as of late, could give them a distinct advantage in this game. If the Boilermakers can't find any offense though, look for the Bearcats to take advantage.